Research in the McCoy Lab discovers mechanisms that retain the function and resilience of ecosystems. We focus on links between physiological responses, biogeochemistry, and the dynamics of micro and macro communities.
Community & functional ecology in a changing world
I am interested in differential effects of changing environmental conditions on interacting individuals and species, and thus on community function. This focal interest has led research in the McCoy Lab in several directions.
Algal communities are excellent model systems in which to study effects of environmental change due to their fast responses to physicochemical conditions. Many stressors co-occur in coastal communities, which play important roles in the function of our oceans. Macrophytes are critical components of coastal ecosystems, creating foundational habitat and generating primary production - their responses thus resonate up the food web. Trophic dynamics between seaweeds and grazers control community dynamics and composition in many nearshore communities. Seaweeds also play a major role in coastal carbon cycling, both at temperate latitudes where there exists a wealth of algal biodiversity and biomass, and in the tropics where coralline algae are important to coral reef carbon dynamics. In many ways, the fates of coastal marine communities (and the oceans) are tied to the responses of seaweeds to environmental change.
Exploration of functional diversity in different contexts has also taken the form of hidden community members and functions. For example, we are focusing on microscopic members of algal mat communities, which sequencing has revealed as far more phylogenetically and functionally diverse than anticipated. These hidden yet ubiquitous community members affect the functions of nearshore marine and freshwater communities globally, and it is important to explore their biogeochemical and ecological interactions. We have also focused on cryptic macroalgal species, which cannot be differentiated based on morphological characters. What drives the coexistence of these species, and which functions enable them to occupy different regions of a niche axis?
Carbon use and sequestration
Carbon sequestration by marine sediments, or 'blue carbon,' is related to productivity, transport, and burial of primary producers in coastal regions. Our recent work has shown that marine macroalgae contribute significantly to offshore carbon sources and burial, despite growing primarily in intertidal and shallow subtidal zones. Current research in the lab explores pathways of carbon uptake and utilization by macroalgae and seagrasses and effects of microenvironment on local retention of carbon.
Aquaculture feedbacks to coastal environments
Aquaculture is expanding rapidly to meet demands for global food security. In Florida, demand for clam and oyster aquaculture lease sites has arisen quickly over the past decade. Yet, the effects of aquaculture equipment and biomass on coastal environments and biodiversity are still poorly understood, as are the interactions of these species with others in coastal ecosystems. Wild oysters have declined to near extirpation in the Florida Gulf of Mexico. With collaborators at FSU's Coastal and Marine Lab, we are partnering with oyster farmers in the Gulf of Mexico to better understand long-term environmental dynamics affecting regional oyster harvest and to quantify changes in sediment chemistry and fauna, and natural oyster reef accretion connected to the presence of aquaculture.
EDU-STEM - Equity and Diversity in Undergraduate STEM
I am a part of the EDU-STEM (Equity and Diversity in Undergraduate STEM) Research Collaborative Network, supported by NSF and led by Sehoya Cotner (University of Minnesota). This research aims to reveal regional differences, if they exist, in the cultural climate for women and minorities in STEM disciplines, develop a community of faculty who can serve as leaders in inclusive teaching and assessment, and increase the number of faculty in the US that are familiar with barriers to inclusion in STEM, and can apply evidence-based techniques for countering these known barriers. This project is just starting, please stay tuned for updates! We are currently recruiting new institutional partners.
Check out our new program website to learn more and join the mailing list.